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Academy Town Square

Academy Town Square Series

Academy Town Square Series

The Academy Town Square series is designed to engage and provide relevant educational content to the public on environmental issues. Academy Town Squares focus on critical global issues in environmental science by featuring prominent thought leaders and their findings on water, climate change, evolution and biodiversity and extinction.

Long Live Sturgeon! (And Other Amazing Fish of the Delaware River Basin)

Long Live Sturgeon! (And Other Amazing Fish of the Delaware River Basin)

Thursday, February 15, 2024 from 6–8 p.m.

In conjunction with the Academy’s 2024 Evolution Year and the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, join us for a conversation hosted by WHYY’s Maiken Scott on the Atlantic Sturgeon, a fish that “epitomizes the global biodiversity crisis,” as well as other vulnerable fishes in the mid-Atlantic region.

The Delaware River Basin is home to a wide variety of fishes, including the remarkable Atlantic Sturgeon, which evolved from a family of fishes that emerged some 150 to 200 million years ago. The Atlantic Sturgeon even outlived the dinosaurs after the Chixulub asteroid caused the great extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The Atlantic Sturgeon is “anadromous” — born in fresh water, it spends its adulthood in salt water and returns to natal rivers to spawn. For millions of years, this fish was found in as many as 38 rivers throughout eastern North America.

In the 1890s, the caviar rush drastically diminished its population, and since then, habitat loss, dams, vessel strikes and other factors have reduced the population to near extinction.  While the Atlantic sturgeon became protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2012, today, only some 100–200 adults participate in the spring spawn.

In this conversation, Scott will speak with research scientists Mariangeles Arce H., Dewayne Fox, Eric J. Hilton and David Keller about what makes Atlantic Sturgeon, and other local fishes including shad and ironcolored shiners, so fascinating and important to study. Discover why these fishes are key to our ecosystems and how the Academy’s collections are invaluable in understanding their evolution. Learn what exactly the decline of a species means for our waterways and how we can help scientists and conservationists reverse this troubling trend toward recovery and restoration. 


WHYY’s Maiken Scott, is the host and executive producer of The Pulse, WHYY's weekly health and science radio show and podcast.


  • Mariangeles Arce H., PhD, is the executive director for the Center for Systematic Biology and Evolution at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. She is an ichthyologist and specializes in the taxonomy, morphology, systematics and evolution of catfishes.
  • Dewayne Fox, PhD, is a professor of fisheries at Delaware State University and is a broadly trained zoologist with an active research program focused on the conservation and management of fishes which includes two decades of directed work on Delaware River sturgeons.
  • Eric J. Hilton, PhD, is chair of the Section for Natural Resources at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary College. Hilton is a broadly trained ichthyologist with active research programs on the anatomy, development, systematics and evolution of fossil and living fishes worldwide; as well as the ecology, conservation and management of diadromous and other migratory fishes in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
  • David Keller, PhD, leads the Fisheries Section of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University where his research focuses on conservation of migratory and at-risk fishes, impacts and management of invasive species, and understanding human impacts such as land use change, dams and emerging contaminants.

Past Academy Town Squares

Academy Town Square: Grasslands: Restoring Bird Habitat

Maiken Scott, host of WHYY's The Pulse, and bird conservationist Zoe Warner discuss a 10-year study conducted in Chester County that has led to greater insights into bird habitat needs and a visionary plan to protect them.

Academy Town Square Presents: Flooding in Philadelphia's Eastwick Community

In this special Academy Town Square, residents of Eastwick will share their challenges as well as their determined spirit — describing the history of a remarkable community organizing effort and raising awareness of what we can do to support it.

Academy Town Square Presents: More Livable Communities in an Era of Climate Change

As we adapt to our changing climate, unexpected benefits may follow — especially for marginalized communities. Efforts to reduce heating and flooding bring more green spaces that are known to strengthen mental health and improve communities. Emergency preparedness efforts create more accessible areas for older and disabled members of the community. Join us to explore how these solutions to climate change provide an opportunity for equity to marginalized Black and Latino communities.

Views and opinions expressed by the speakers are solely their own and do not necessarily represent any associated institutions.

Academy Town Square Presents: Preparing for a Warmer, Wetter Philadelphia

Climate change is causing Philadelphia not only to heat up, but also to experience more frequent and intense flooding events. In this program we’ll explore how local communities are dealing with increasing temperatures exacerbated by the urban heat island effect; natural cycles of flooding; and how urbanization and climate change impact flooding risks in our city. But where there are challenges, there are people ready to step up and face them. Find out how, from community groups to city government, Philadelphians are making efforts to understand and mitigate the effects of a warmer, wetter Philadelphia.

Academy Town Square Presents: Gideon Mendel Drowning World

Gideon Mendel joined us for an Academy Town Square on May 6 to discuss his engagement with social issues as a photographer and artist, including the challenge of making climate change visible.